Saturday, May 10, 2008

No hay transporte

So, we’re in the middle of a nation wide transportation strike. That’s no good. Things change from day to day, but here’s the gist:

Starting last Monday (the 5th) taxi drivers in Managua and a couple other major cities and some buses stopped running. The following day, almost all taxi drivers in the country, as well as almost all buses (between cities and within cities) and a lot of cargo transporters joined the strike. Since then, it has been more of the same. We, here in Malpaisillo, are in the middle of a major east-west highway in Nicaragua and usually have 20-30 buses pulling into town daily, plus the 3 micro-buses that are constantly going back and forth between here and Leon. Since Monday, not one bus has come through town. This has had a big impact in some ways and not much of an impact in other ways.

Probably the biggest impact is for people who don’t live in the town where they work. It is very rare here to own a car so almost everyone relies on public transportation. Many people in Malpaisillo (and lots of other communities) work in Leon and haven’t been able to go to work. All of the schools where I work are outside of town along the highway and many teachers live in town and are not going to work because they have no way to get there, so no school. Another major impact, since cargo transporters are also striking, is that a lot of the markets are out of food. We have been alright here because somehow people are sneaking in food every few days, but the prices have also gone up because of this. Some of our friends live in towns that have been without basic food supplies almost all week.

Why is this all happening? Apparently Nicaragua has the highest gas prices in all of Central America (around $5/gal) and those who work in transportation want the government to freeze petroleum prices. In effect, they are looking for the government to subsidize gas costs in order to bring them back down. The government says that there is no money to do that, and the only possible way they could try would be to re-institute the nation-wide power outages (for about 8 hours a day) that we used to have. That certainly isn’t a popular option. The transportation workers don’t want to raise their prices because they say that no one will pay and that they have already had to raise them a lot (example, when we first got to Malpaisillo in Nov 06, it cost 35 cordobas to get to Managua. Now it costs 58. That is a 66% increase in about a year and a half). It is hard to say whether people would pay higher prices or not because people just don’t have much money here. The prices have to be kept low, even if it means very slim profits, just so people can afford things.

Peace Corps has instructed us not to leave our towns because in some areas the strikers have set up road blocks and are harassing all cars. Their goal is to paralyze the country. There are also demonstrations in a few cities and lots of folks have been tear-gassed and/or arrested. So far, we haven’t had any reason to need to leave Malpaisillo, but if this goes on another week we definitely will. Although we are not in danger of running out of food yet, we have run out of some of the things we like to eat that we can only buy in grocery stores in Leon (oatmeal, wheat bread, peanut butter, spices…) where we generally go to restock once a week. Also, there are no ATMs here, so we could potentially run out of money, although I don’t see that happening soon, since we spend most of our money at the grocery store in Leon.

That’s what is going on here, but it gets better. Since late January, we only get running water from 6 am until around 1 pm each day. We have become accustomed to this and are used to waking up early to fill up buckets, do dishes and laundry and water the plants. After the water goes away, we just use the stored water to bathe and clean dishes. Well, for some reason, the power started going out again this week from around 8 am until 3 pm. We haven’t had power outages like this for about 6 months, so we were all surprised. Well, when the power goes out, the electric water pump for the town also goes out so the water stops running about a half hour after the lights go out. That means that we have only been getting water from 6 until 830 each day. That is barely enough time to fill all of our buckets that we emptied the previous evening and do laundry. Especially since we usually leave to go to work around 730 or 8 and then fill up water after. So for a good portion of this week we were sitting in the house, sweating of course, with no power, water, transportation and very little food in town. When we talk to locals about that, they add that there is also no employment and in many cases (because of the transportation) no school. What a mess.

We’re fine though. Our spirits (like the temperature) are still high. A bright spot upon all of this is that the Ramirez Brothers Circus is in town!! As soon as we saw them setting up, in a vacant lot in the middle of neighborhood, we knew that no matter how much we didn’t want to go, we definitely had to go. Now, I don’t know if you have ever been to a circus in the US, but aside from the big tent, this is nothing like that. First of all, there is one circular tent that is probably around 800-900 ft2. Inside this tent are bleachers (2 x 4s resting in a rebar frame, no nails or screws, balanced on the dirt ground) and the “ring” where all of the action happens. The bleachers were packed full with probably 300-400 people and there was absolutely no ventilation.

The show started late (of course) with 3 little girls, probably ages 3, 5 and 5, wearing short skirts and high boots doing some sort of sexy dance to a reggaeton song being played way too loud through blown-out speakers. Now, to the casual observer, this may seem strange but we have learned that any gathering here is not official until there is extremely loud music played through blown-out speakers. If the music volume is such that you can talk to someone standing next to you, it must be turned up much higher. In addition, little girls dressed provocatively and dancing in ways they shouldn’t be are expected at most social gatherings, be they school graduations, birthday parties, holy week parades, summer reading club events or government elections.

After the little girls danced, a guy came out to do some tricks on a big trapeze-like swing that came only inches away from the heads of the crowd in the bleachers. After him was a clown act and then a young woman, dressed much like the little girls only the skirt was shorter and the bikini top was more like a small bra, came out to dance. Everyone hooted and hollered the whole time. After her a different girl, dressed similarly, came out to lip-synch a couple of songs and dance. Then there was a break. The second half was even worse. More clown acts, making sexual and racist jokes almost exclusively, and one of the dancing girls came back out wearing even skimpier clothes and not bothering to lip-synch this time. Also, throughout the night, there was a deer chained up in the corner that never took part in any act. So, aside from a guy on a swing, the circus consisted of crude clown acts and almost naked dancing girls. Did I mention that at least a third of the crowd was under the age of 12? When we left the circus, we (Brenna, our friend Greg, and I) were all disgusted by what had taken place that evening. Obviously, we have come to expect many cultural differences and we know that entertainment is different here than at home, but we were still appalled. What made it even worse is that there really isn’t anything here for people to do, so when something like this comes to town, of course everyone is going to go. Since we went, we have actually had some really good conversations with some folks in our town about what they think about all of this. Many people have told us that they also think it is disgusting and would never go to something like that. I’m glad we saw it, but I will never go to a circus in Nicaragua again. What a funny place.

I guess that will be all for now. Thanks for reading and we look forward to seeing some of you in CO in a few weeks. Please think about DONATING to our town trash project. And if you’re going to donate, don’t waste any time. We need to raise the $$ by the end of July. Thanks for considering it.

See you later.


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